How I Spent My Unceremonious Eight-Month-Long Summer Vacation

Derek Schultz and his child

Photo by Tony Valainis

This has been a difficult year for everyone, and sometimes, when things are tough, you need the comfort of a familiar voice. So, when the good folks at Indy Monthly reached out to me a few weeks ago with a plea to return to their site—Where is Derek Schultz? This city needs its Derek Schultz!—I was happy to oblige. But, before we talk about *super duper important* sportsball things, I wanted to start with an update on what I’ve been doing in my laid-off, locked-down, non-compete-claused life. Here’s a reader-friendly timeline:

JANUARY: I got fired! Well, wait, “laid-off” is the proper term—like that’s supposed to make the end result feel any better. After nearly 8 ½ years as the co-host of Query & Schultz on WNDE, iHeartMedia (our soulless, corporate overlords parent company) cut more than 1,000 jobs nationwide. Talk and sports formats, particularly in middle markets, were hit the hardest, so Jake Query and I got swept up in that. I actually found out via a frantic phone call from Jake, who is never awake before noon, at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday:

Me: Hello.

Jake: Are you FIRED?

Me: Uh…

Jake: Because I’m fired.

Me: …

Jake: So, you’re probably fired.

For the next week, I barely slept or ate. What the hell was I going to do? If you’re a salesperson and you get laid off, there are ten million sales jobs. If you’re an accountant and you get laid off, there are ten million sales jobs. If you’re a daily sports radio host in Indianapolis and you get laid off, there are *checks notes* four daily sports radio host jobs—and they’re all taken. Neat!

FEBRUARY: Honestly, February wasn’t all that bad! After the initial shock from my layoff finally wore off, I was able to hit the mental reset button a bit. Took a break. Went to Florida for our son’s birthday. Enjoyed my Miracle Birthday (stay tuned: column to come on this at a later time). Watched Indiana get swept by Purdue in basketball. You know, normal stuff. Throughout the month, our former bosses were working on a plan to get us back on the air at WNDE. There was hope …

MARCH 11: One of the most surreal days of my life begins by meeting with my old bosses at my old station in my old conference room. We’re told of the parameters of a deal to return to the airwaves (and, in the process, nix our non-compete clause) at WNDE and we depart to take a few days to think about it. That afternoon, I get a vasectomy. They always tell guys to do it in March around tournament time, so I scheduled it for right when the Big Ten and Big East Tournaments are getting underway. I’m equally excited to watch hoops for two straight days and no longer be able to produce viable sperm! While standing in line for antibiotics at a pharmacy, I get a text alert: Rudy Gobert has tested positive for COVID-19.

MARCH 12: I get one half—one glorious, beautiful, epic half —of St. John’s-Creighton before the sports world screeches to a halt. The NBA bags their season and all of the conferences bag their tournaments, while I lay on the couch with a frozen bag o’ corn on my balls and stare at the ceiling.

MARCH 13: I get an email from my old boss that they’re being forced to “re-evaluate” anything that isn’t already set in stone. Great. I’ve worked in corporate radio long enough to know that “re-evaluating” means it ain’t happening. Like the ends of my Vas Deferens, my future was again burnt to a crisp.

MARCH 14: Our 3-year old’s school program was shut down, and with my parents almost in their 70s, we decide to keep James away from his grandparents, too. I go into “stay-at-home dad” mode. I think I’m actually pretty good at it! But, being a stay-at-home dad is difficult when you can’t take your kid to his school, zoo, museum, the Canal Walk, the JCC, that trampoline place in Noblesville where Daddy got injured jumping in the ball pit, the Holliday Park Nature Center, any library, any playground, an indoor pool, a playdate, or basically anywhere that isn’t a 100-acre bean field in, like, Martinsville or something, with no chance of human contact. Don’t get me wrong, I love my son, but being confined to a space for weeks with anyone, even the person you love the most in the world, is not easy.

MARCH 215: I’m searching for jobs and realize that no one is hiring. Everything is frozen. Positions I’ve applied for have been pulled. With the ongoing shutdown and looming recession (I thought at that time), I get desperate and begin looking for part-time jobs. I start with Whole Foods cashier because I feel like I already fit the job description: beard, glasses, drinks lattes, wears skinny jeans, Instragrams pictures of his food, Millennial, etc. I apply thinking, Hey, this is a slam dunk. I get a rejection e-mail later that day. Fine! Fuck you and your organic dragonfruits and artisanal cheese boards or whatever.

MARCH 216: Amazon accepts my application. They appear to be impressed by my work experience, Twitter following, and overall #brand, but they’re especially intrigued by my ability to lift boxes that are 35 pounds or more.

MARCH 303: We learned my wife, Ashley, normally a trauma nurse, would have to float over to the newly-created COVID unit at the hospital. I feel a weird combination of fear, stress, anxiety, isolation, and depression creeping in, but more than anything else, there’s one overwhelming feeling: failure. My wife is working 12-hour overnight shifts, saving lives during a global pandemic, carrying my dead ass on her health insurance … and I’m cutting the crusts off of PB&J sandwiches? Reading “How to Potty Train Your Kid” books? Emptying the dishwasher?

She spends her days under intense pressure, covered in blood, sweat, and blood/sweat soaked PPE (which they often had to re-use … thanks, Almighty Government!), while I’m wearing the same sweatpants that I’ve worn since the shutdown, and am covered in peanut butter, toddler urine, and shame. You can say, “Well, you’re helping by being a dad!” Sure! My wife and I are a team! Woo! Teamwork! But, in this “team” scenario, she’s Peyton Manning and I’m Blair White (sorry, Blair White, if you still exist).

MARCH 676: Ashley is off the COVID unit (finally, after two-plus months), and after waiting two extra weeks, we reunite James with my parents. Now I can start my new career/life as an Amazonian! As nice as it was to finally be able to leave my living room for somewhere other than Kroger(‘s), you’d think I’d have turned the corner. But, this feeling of failing is shackled to me. Your wife is carrying you. You’re a shitty dad. Your career is over. FAIL, FAIL, FAIL… I can’t shake it.

MARCH 701: I’m still moping around at work, but actually find myself somewhat enjoying it. The beauty of a part-time, non-career job like this is that once you punch out, it’s done. You don’t take any of it—more work, stress, whatever —with you. I also started to realize that my co-workers were going through stuff, too. I made friends like Ryan, a talented session drummer and graduate of the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, who had all of his gigs cancelled in the wake of the pandemic.

Same for Ramirez, a guy whose family escaped gang violence in Chicago when he was young, and had worked his way up at the warehouse. He was so knowledgeable about the operations across the entire building that managers often asked him questions about their jobs. Finally, there was Magic, a 21-year old IUPUI student who has no interesting backstory, but would constantly ask me for life advice like what career he should pursue, how to talk to girls at Tiki Bob’s (remember Tiki Bob’s?!), and other areas where I have absolutely zero expertise.

JUNE 15: A month passes, then another one, and once I eventually stop feeling sorry for myself, my situation improves. I got really good at scanning cardboard boxes and organizing shelves at Amazon. My work friends and I make fun of the one boss that everyone hates in the breakroom. We rag on each other. It’s just like the restaurant jobs I had in high school and college, except I wasn’t sneaking away to smoke menthol cigarettes by the dumpster anymore. At least I’m working again, and I think I might actually be having … fun? The time certainly isn’t dragging anymore.

Things also got easier at home. My wife traded the stress of dealing with a global pandemic for the more familiar stress of dealing with gunshot wounds and horrific motorcycle crashes on her normal unit (God bless our nurses, man). My son started peeing on the potty, even though I have the sneaking suspicion he was completely sandbagging me. Some other places called and actually wanted me to do sportsball stuff again—freelance, but still, sportsball stuff!

SEPTEMBER 7: A few weeks after the non-compete expires, Jake and I announce we’re re-launching Query & Schultz on ISC Sports Network. Noticing that my star is ascending again, my Indy Monthly friends ask me to be the face of their magazine say it’s OK for me to contribute a blog once in a while. And, surprise, I’m keeping the Amazon gig.

It’s so stupid that something like an hourly Amazon job could help lift me from a months-long funk, but it was like I put MENTAL HEALTH in my cart and shipped that shit Same Day Prime. You see, life is like a giant conveyor belt… OK, but seriously, if there’s one positive to come from this flaming trash pile of a year, I think it’s that we’ve all been separating the stuff in our lives that does matter from the stuff that doesn’t. For instance, Stuff That Matters: I’m at peace with who I am, where I am, and my family is happy, healthy, and safe. Stuff That Doesn’t Matter: co-hosting a middle-market AM Radio show, bot-weighted Twitter follower counts, whatever the hell the Colts were doing against Gardner Minshew the other day.

So, focus on your own Stuff That Matters, and please watch/listen/follow me for Stuff That Doesn’t Matter on Indy Monthly, ISC Sports Network, and Twitter.